Senate debates

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Defence Procurement

3:31 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to take note of answers to my questions asked to the defence minister, Minister Payne. And while we're on the subject of throwing around a couple of hundred billion dollars of taxpayers' money: we saw $144 billion of personal tax cuts pass this chamber just a few days ago and we're very shortly going to be debating $80 billion in a corporate handout—corporate welfare for some of the biggest and most profitable corporations on the planet.

But let's talk about a couple of hundred billion dollars that the government plan to spend on military equipment, on Defence assets. Just two budgets ago, we saw the biggest increase in Defence spending since the Second World War. The government outlined they would move Defence spending to two per cent of GDP. Today, the media announced that the government would be acquiring seven Triton drones at the cost of $7 billion. Only two years ago, in its white paper, the government said that they would be acquiring seven drones at a cost of between $3 billion and $4 billion—$3 billion to $4 billion, that's a billion dollars on three. That's nearly 30 per cent of variation in cost. It's quite significant, and I noticed at the time that it was not just to do with Triton but was also to do with a number of other expenditures around military assets. But two years later they're acquiring six of these drones—so one less—for $7 billion. That's a more than 100 per cent blowout in costs for one piece of military hardware.

The government is planning to spend a couple of hundred billion dollars of taxpayers' money on new submarines, on the LAND 400 and a whole range of other military expenditure programs. The minister today, in response to my question, couldn't or wouldn't outline why Defence spending on this Triton drone had blown out so significantly on their original estimate. What trust do the Australian people have if our government can't get it right on one piece of military equipment, and we're looking at nearly $200 billion of expenditure? And where's the debate in this place? As usual, it takes the Greens to ask the question on Defence procurement or military expenditure. No-one else in this place does.

Speaking of submarines, it's like silent running—both the major parties in lockstep, supporting the troops, refusing to ask questions on matters related to military expenditure. And while we're talking about jobs, which is what I've heard from the last four take note participants in here today, how many jobs are the Australian taxpayers going to get for the $7 billion worth of expenditure that's going to go to an American company, Northrop Grumman, to make these drones? How many Australian jobs are we going to get out of that? How many do we get out of the tens of billions of dollars that we have thrown at the Joint Strike Fighter program in the last 10 years? What a great success that's been! Let's give another $7 billion to a large American—one of the most profitable weapons manufacturers on this planet. When are we actually going to get the scrutiny? We don't even think or talk about whether we need the drones, let alone the costs of them. We often do talk about where that money's going to be spent, how many jobs are going to be created for it and which electorate is going to receive that funding, but we very rarely discuss whether we need this military hardware in the first place.

I would like to finish my take note contribution on my last question. Clearly, the minister outlined in her response to Senator Hume that this is going to be used for Operation Sovereign Borders, so they have let the cat out of the bag. We have an over-the-horizon radar that's already effective in detecting boats in our waters. This drone is designed to be able to go around the world, through and over the South China Sea, and poke its nose around in our region. Why are we contributing to tensions in our region and a regional arms race when we should be doing everything we can to de-escalate tensions in our region? Bad idea. Turn back.

Question agreed to.